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A Mechanic’s Life


ISSUE:  Summer 1981

“How’s your martini?” she asked. He nodded and brought the glass to his lips. The pale, near colorless liquid mirrored the hill across from the terrace. He drank the view. He could almost taste the spruce trees, the pond, the road down to the village as the whole prospect passed across his palate like a savory.

His wife had shrugged and sipped some wine and leaned forward to hug herself as if to give him more time in his reverie, but then, with a shift of feet, she returned to their conversation. “You have so much machinery already.” Her voice was almost casual. “How did you know he wanted to sell it?”

“Little Sink called me. His father had asked him to call me. It’s in first-class condition, you can be sure of that. After all it was Bink Card’s own brush cutter, and he only used it to keep down the fence lines. And he serviced it himself. I really need it to keep down the brush from around these spruce trees.” He gestured toward the hillside. “The slope is too steep for the tractor.”

“How much was it?” she asked, lighting a cigarette, one of the unfiltered kind that she continued to smoke, though he had stopped all tobacco use years before.

“Only five hundred dollars,” he replied, thinking how easy her questions were to answer. That hillside, for the first time since they had lived here, would now really look right. He would be able to control the undergrowth. “The same machine with attachments costs three or four times that brand new,” he continued as he took a handful of peanuts. “Also, now that he’s in the hospital, old Bink needs the money. There are a lot of things I’ll be able to do with it. I really do need it.”

His wife had turned her gaze upon the hillside. There was a search in her expression, an old bemused search of familiar ground, as if she might come across something she had never seen there but, at the same time, did not expect to find. Since they moved to this old farm ten years before, she had returned to the city almost once a week. He used to think she was having an affair, even half-enjoyed the idea, for it made her more glamorous to him, more interesting, so it was with a strange disappointment that he discovered the hairdresser appointments and theatre matinees were alibis laid down to cover long and pointless walks through the city’s streets rather than some passionate assignation.

“Well, that’s fine,” she said, letting the cigarette smoke drift from her lips. “Of course you do need it.”

He remembered her saying this when he bought the cultivator, his first piece of genuine equipment. He did not count the lawnmower, though it had been his first machinery purchase, because the lawnmower was the sort of cosmetic appliance that could be found on any suburban lawn and not at all in the same category with the cultivator nor the powered snow thrower and certainly not the high-wheeled tractor that occupied most of the space in the small barn. But the cultivator was still his favorite; it could turn and modify the soil. Its Saracen blades sliced through the earth’s helm to transform an old feed lot into a sultan’s paradise. He had always planted gardens that were too abundant.

When he would appear at the back door with baskets of green beans and squash, eggplant, and Brussels sprouts or onions, his wife would say, “What am I supposed to do with all these?” The tomatoes seemed to depress her even more. She would let them grow soft in their casual pyramids on the back-room bench until they had been compressed and juiced by their own weight. She had tried to can some, to freeze some of the other vegetables, but, in the end, he stopped looking for easier recipes for her to try and reduced the variety and number of vegetables to be planted, though the area of the garden remained the same, the blades of the powerful cultivator churning and chopping the same plot of ground he had originally fenced off.

“I haven’t seen Little Bink in a long time,” she said with a final drag on her cigarette. She only smoked it halfway down, a habit originally meant to appease his criticism.

“He’ll be taking over the machine shop now. He’s done most of the heavy work for his father the last couple of years anyway.” In fact, the younger Card had not called him about the brush cutter, as he had told her, but it had been the other way around. He had called Little Bink when he heard the old man had become seriously ill, had been hospitalized. He mentioned the young man’s name to confuse her opposition to his new purchase.

Little Bink had been an inventive kid in high school, using his father’s tools, and particularly the welding equipment, to fashion weird and wonderful constructions from the scrap and parts of machinery that littered the Card place. They could easily pass for modern sculpture. His wife had taken an interest in Little Bink, tried to get special attention for him at the local school, even spoke to a friend of hers at the Art Students League, but it came to nothing when the boy dropped out of school and into the oily darkness of his father’s machine shop. Some weeks later, after some special apprenticeship, he showed up at a church supper with his left hand completely bandaged; he had crushed his fingers in a power press. The old man had lost several fingers, walked with a stoop, and bore numerous scars on his body as though the machinery he repaired had become impatient, had turned and nipped him as he worked over it.

The boy even looked different, something in his eyes when they met him, a note of suppressed laughter, as if he had played some outrageous joke upon them but they would never know its nature. It was about then that his wife began going to the city.

“It’s so wonderfully peaceful here,” he said to her. He fished for the olive at the bottom of his cocktail glass. “You don’t know what it means to me to get back here and just soak up this silence, savor this—this peace.”

“Yes, it is peaceful,” she said and stood up. “Bring in the glasses will you. It’s time we have something to eat.”

* * *

The next morning he backed the old pickup truck out of the barn. It was a rolling testament to Bink Card’s ingenuity; he had welded its rusts together and kept it going long after it should have been junked, and, as the man settled into the lumpy seat behind the wheel, he was overcome with an appreciation for Card’s skill and craftmanship. It was to signal this feeling, as well as to wave to his wife if she were looking out the window, that he raised his hand in a cavalier salute and tapped the horn button as he passed down their driveway.

“Bink Card is the last of an American breed,” he would tell weekend guests. Some excuse would be found, perhaps a broken axe handle, to take these friends down to the country garage so they could observe a native genius in action. Sometimes on the long plane trips that were a part of his life, he would find himself talking about Bink Card to the stranger in the next seat, about how he could fix anything, put anything right while at the same time delivering a salty commentary on the times, local personalities, or women. “Bink Card said,” became a familiar prefix for the pithy remarks he had heard at the man’s garage. He would repeat them to his wife, claiming some of them to be folklore, almost. But she would never laugh.

“You know very well,” she would say, “that if anyone else said things like that, you would call them a bigot. He’s nothing more than a mean-spirited, dirty old man.” She was still angry about losing the contest for Little Bink.

Even now, as he rounded the curve in the road, he half expected to see the familiar figure standing in the open doorway of the ramshackle garage, the black metal mask tipped up on his head and a cigarette smoking in one hand, like the acetyline torch he held in the other needed help. But it was Little Bink who waited for him there now.

He turned the pickup off the highway and onto the dirt road that always looked to him like the path of a beaten but glorious army. Broken machinery lay in the weeds on both sides, parts of combines and threshers, tractors and cutters— all left behind under a camouflage of rust. The farm wagon Little Bink was spraying with paint had been salvaged from this junk, had been put together from this junk by Bink Card, and had been, no doubt, his last piece of work before he had been taken to the hospital. Two-inch oak planks had been bolted to the chasis of a three-ton truck, and the tongue assembly and front axle of a manure spreader had been fixed to the front. The whole rig was being painted a brilliant yellow, the wheels were already an unearthy green, and the two colors set up a vibration in the morning light that hurt the man’s eyes. The boy continued to operate the spray gun, the unhurried motion of his arm conducting an even coat of paint to wood and metal, and the glistening pigment accumulated on the rusted bolt heads, the joints, and hardened seams of manure until the whole assembly resembled a bizarre confection. Little Bink had not turned to greet him nor did he pause when the truck stopped nor did he acknowledge the older man as he got out of the ancient pickup. It was as if there were some point on the wagon frame where the different films of paint would be joined and that everything, everyone would have to wait until he methodically reached that point which was known only to him. The man leaned against the fender of his truck to wait his turn, even enjoying the idea that he had a turn in the younger man’s schedule. He studied the manufacture of the wagon and could see the new enamel-covered faults and corrosion that should have been restored before they were painted over and wondered if Bink Card had had only time enough to teach his son a few of his skills, those with the paint sprayer and the acetylene torch.

Abruptly, Little Bink stopped the spray gun and walked to the barn, holding the coils of hose to one side. The compressor was shut off. It was suddenly very quiet. A herd of black-and-white cows moved slowly across a distant field like pieces of torn paper adrift on a dark pond. The young man reappeared in the wide doorway. He stood there, blinking like his father as if he had just come up for air, or for light, and even held a cigarette the same way, fingers together and chest high in the elegant pose of a woodchuck by its hole.

“Nice looking wagon,” the man said. Little Bink sucked on his cigarette and smiled, suggesting there had been no point telling him something he already knew. “How’s your dad?”

“Coming along,” he answered. His voice was higher than his father’s, nor did he resemble him much. His hair and complexion were very light, so light that his face looked bald, without eyebrows or hairline. “His kidneys aren’t so good.” It sounded like he talked of a worn part, the flaw in a transmission.

“Well, if there’s anyting we can do,” the man stopped because Little Bink had smiled again, that same sidewise smile he seemed to reserve for them when they met. “So here she is,” the man turned and quickly crossed the yard to the brush cutter. “Here she is,” he repeated and tentatively touched one of the hand grips.

The brush cutter looked like something Bink Card might have thrown together on a Sunday afternoon, using a week’s spare parts, but this was the way it was supposed to look. This was the way it looked in every catalog, the way it appeared in every showroom, and that was the beauty of it, the man reminded himself, because the original design had been so perfect that no changes had ever been made. There were no frivolous fenders over the two substantial wheels, no tinny cowling around its engine; nothing had been put on the machine that was not directly geared to its function of heavy duty work. The mechanical construction was frankly exposed and was the embodiment of raw power. He grasped the two shafts by which it was steered. It was so perfectly balanced on its two wheels that he could raise its 700 hundred pounds with only the slightest pressure, could see-saw the whole rig on the axle’s fulcrum, so that the horizontal cutting bar lifted like the jaw of a hammerhead shark against the soft gray belly of morning.

“Boy, she’s a real man-killer, isn’t she?” the man said exultantly. It was a description of the machine he had heard others make.

“She’ll get the work done, no question,” Little Bink said. “But you got to let the machine do it. Don’t try to push it or wrestle with her. That paragon gear onto it drives her at its own speed, no more, no less. You can’t rush her or turn her by force. She’s in A-one shape too. Pap used it only to keep down the fence lines.”

“Yes, you told me that,” the man replied. “But I guess she’ll cut through almost anything.”

“Well, I’ve seen her go through a stand of inch-and-a-half maples like they was straw.”

“Inch-and-a-half, think of that,” the new owner said. He knelt and pulled out the dip stick to check the oil level.

“Sumac, of course,” the boy continued, “why, hell, she’ll take on three inches without a whimper.”

“Sumac, three inches,” the man repeated. He inspected the cables that went from the battery to the ground and to another part; the starter probably. “And the beauty of it,” he said, “is that it’s all right out here in the open; easy to get at, easy to fix—if there’s a need to. Well, here.” He stood up and took a folded check from his pocket and handed it to Little Bink. The amount was for a hundred dollars more than he had told his wife.

The boy carefully inspected the check, as though it was the first sort of paper he had even seen. “Is it all right?” the man asked, after a bit. Little Bink nodded and smiled, then tucked the check into the top pocket of his coveralls. They pulled a couple of heavy boards out of the weeds and placed them against the edge of the pick-up’s bed. Little Bink stretched out a toe in the graceful attitude of a dancer, the man thought, and touched the starter button fixed near the drivechain. The engine coughed and started instantly.

The boy adjusted the throttle on one of the steering shafts and let the machine idle while he returned to the barn to retrieve loose tools. He replaced them on the proper racks inside. The noise of the engine, only partially muffled, carved out a wondrous space around the new owner to put him in a joyous isolation from the day and from all men. He could not yet believe that he owned this machine. He tried to imagine the glistening parts working smoothly within the roar; tried to picture them, tried—within the limits of his expertise—to name them.

The two men made no effort to talk above the engine’s noise, and Little Bink signaled and then demonstrated that the new owner should run the cutter up the planks and onto the truck bed. The man tried to align the wheels with the planks and received his first lesson in the machine’s huge inertia. It seemed like trying to adjust the Sphinx.

Impatiently, Little Bink reached across him and pulled a gear level and the cutter responded immediately, going into reverse and backing the older man up and into the barn and almost over a large anvil before he could locate the neutral position and stop it. Carefully, he moved the lever into forward gear, and the machine began to roll. He steered it with only a slight pressure on the hand grips. The wheels bumped over the ends of the planks and, with no hesitation, pulled the whole mass up the ramped boards and onto the truck. He found neutral, rather deftly he thought, and Little Bink lay a screwdriver across the sparkplug and the cylinder head to short the ignition. With several mournful gasps, like it was only warming up to its full power and was sorry to quit, the engine quit.

As he drove home, he looked at the brush cutter through the rear-view mirror. There had been an imperial quality about its power, slow but relentless. His ambition for it had already multiplied itself; to merely trim a little brush from around young conifers would be a puny utilization of its power. He could forsee empires of clover where barbaric growth now rioted.

He was sorry his wife was not home, her car was gone, but he backed the truck into a bank to run the cutter off since Little Bink had been reluctant to loan him the two planks. He had hoped she would be there to hear the smooth power of its engine. With the malicious raw teeth thrust out in front, the brush cutter slowly wheeled toward the barn, and he walked behind it, hands resting on the grips to steer it, like an invalid recovering from paralysis. At the barn, he maneuvered and parked it beside the tractor and between the cultivator and the lawnmower, just behind the roller and the snow blower. Its bare, utilitarian manufacture shamed their superficial designs; it was as if an honest, simple working man had been set down in a drawing room full of dilettantes. He took a screwdriver and shut down the engine the way he had seen Little Bink do, sorry for its silence, for he was eager to try it out, but he had to prepare for a business trip in the morning.

II

By the time he returned from his trip, Bink Card had died and been buried. His wife gave him the details as they had drinks on the terrace his first night home; it had been a small funeral and Little Bink was to continue the machine shop.

“I’m glad I went to see him,” he said. “The veterans hospital is near the airport, so I went by for a few minutes before my plane left.”

“That was good of you,” she said and lit a cigarette. She seemed more nervous than usual and drank a martini with him.

“They had him hooked up to a dialysis machine, but I guess there had been too much damage. He didn’t say much.”

In fact, Bink Card had not talked to him at all, had even turned his head away and left him with the companionship of the machine at bedside. It hardly made any noise, only a low hum, and that surprised him as if the mechanic should be associated only with noisy machinery. Card’s skin had become the color of old-fashioned laundry soap; perhaps all the fumes he had inhaled in his machine shop, all the smoke of his cigarettes had surfaced, had been sucked to the surface by the tubes that connected him to this humming box. Maybe that explained his silence; maybe the machine had also filtered Bink Card’s talk, those folksy monologues rinsed of their meanness and bigotry so that there had been nothing left for him to say.

After about ten minutes, a nurse came into the room, and he had stood up. She regarded them curiously to establish their relationship, and he had almost started to explain it, he told his wife, but then only nodded and started to go. He had leaned over the sick man and said, “Bink, I promise to take good care of your brush cutter.” He didn’t tell his wife this part, nor that the three fingers left on Card’s right hand had lifted from the counterpane and turned in the air. It was an ambiguous gesture.

“Listen,” his wife was saying. “I’m going to the city tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” he replied. “But I just got home.”

“That’s right,” she answered as if it explained something. She had let her legs sprawl and then closed them together to trap a fold of skirt around her hands. “Though I don’t feel I belong there anymore. All the taxis seem to be full and I can’t find the corner where the empty ones pass. But there’s a Monet show at the Met and lots of other things.”

He smiled and looked away from her, toward the hillside. They had had a dry spell and the underbrush around the conifers would cut very cleanly, but he had hoped she would be there to witness his first day with the cutter—to hear it. He had an agenda. In the morning, he’d trim around the evergreens, just to get the feel of the new equipment. Then, in the afternoon, he’d turn it loose in a lower lot where brambles and sumac competed. So, he would be alone, but as he ate breakfast the next morning, the idea of doing it alone appealed to him; there was a purity about it.

When he pulled open the barn door, he found the brush cutter just where he had left it, though it seemed ready to chase the other equipment, to snap at the lawnmower’s plump tires. He reviewed the check list for starting (he had owned an official manual for the machine for some time) and then pressed his toe against the starter button. The engine turned over, coughed, and almost caught. He toed the button again. It almost started. He readjusted the throttle, checked the choke’s position, and pressed the button. Blue smoke puffed from the exhaust. He held his foot against the starter button, contrary to the warning in the manual, and the crankshaft turned and turned and turned, but there was no ignition. Yes, there was gas; he checked the tank.

It was probably in the ignition, he thought, probably some part of the ignition like the coil or the condenser. Maybe it was the sparkplug. With a wrench, he quickly removed the plug and was gladdened to see its gap fouled by a gooey deposit of oil. He wiped it off and, whistling as he worked, cleaned the metal with a piece of emery paper until it gleamed like new. He checked and adjusted the plug’s gap, he had all the tools for this right at hand, replaced it, and hooked back the wire. He touched the starter button. It almost kicked over, but he could tell that the battery was now getting weak.

It would probably be a good idea to let the battery rest while he checked out the coil and condenser. Morever, the engine might have flooded. Again, the functional simplicity of the machine impressed him as he began to take it apart. Even if he had not owned a manual, even if he had not almost memorized the manual, he could have done exactly what he was doing now. As he removed each part, he laid it on the floor in a workmanlike manner. Every nut and bolt was easily accessible.

The coil and condenser were neatly tucked beneath the metal platform that held the battery. Four bolts held this shelf to the chassis. The pure logic of the arrangement thrilled him. He tried to visualize the genius who had designed the cutter, his name must be somewhere, for this invention could not have been the product of any anonymous corporate effort. When he withdrew the four bolts, he discovered them to be longer than he had supposed, apparently they were seated far in the engine block. One by one, he set them down on the floor with the other parts. However, the battery platform did not fall off, did not even budge, but remained fixed over the coil and condenser. It remained as solidly a part of the chassis like it were a piece of it, like it had been welded to it. In fact, it had been welded to it.

With a rag, he wiped the metal clean and saw the neat scar left by Bink Card’s skillful application of the acetyline torch. No doubt the threads on those long bolts had become worn and some extra bonding had been needed at this point. But the beauty of a machine like this, he told himself, was that there was more than one way to get at a problem. He took the manual to the open doorway where the light was better and studied it. His stomach rebuked him for the quick breakfast, and he noted the sun was higher than he expected. Then he found the right page. The diagram illustrated another way of reaching the coil and condenser; by coming from behind and through the space where the starter motor and the timing gear were located. They would be easy to remove.

In fact, he didn’t even have to change the socket wrench because all the fittings had been standardized. As he twirled off these bolts, he reflected on the modification Bink Card had made on the machine, to appreciate the idea of the man’s practical wisdom joined to the original conception, almost a synthesis. The driving chain and the rotor slipped off. It was all going much faster than he thought it would.

Three bolts had held the starter motor, and a couple of screws fastened a small black box that contained something that looked like fuses. The garage floor was beginning to resemble one of the illustrations in the manual, everything neatly laid out. Now he could put his hand through this space and, with a small screwdriver, undo the condenser fitting; but a piece of steel, shaped like a keystone, had been welded partially over the opening so he could not insert the screwdriver in such a way to get a good purchase on the screwhead. He could plainly see the screwhead. It gleamed on the other end of the narrow channel like a pearl in an inner sanctum. He deduced that Bink or maybe Little Bink had welded this brace at the axle for extra strength.

On his knees, he was clearly at a point of decision. He could reassemble the machine and, by then, the battery would have probably recharged itself and the carburetor cleared. It would probably start with one touch on the button. But what if it didn’t start? Then he would have to tear it down all over to the point he had just reached and that would be a waste of time. The morning was already gone. He heard a car motor down at the house. He got up and went to the corner of the barn, though he would have been surprised if it had been his wife. It was only the dry cleaning man, delivering some clothes, who waved to him as he got into his truck and he waved back. He watched the truck turn and pass down the driveway and out of sight. Some birds sang behind him that sounded like robins or they might have been sparrows.

The left side of the brush cutter was even simpler than the right; that is, there were fewer parts to remove. Only three cotter pins held the clutch assembly and its control rod together. He left the carburetor intact, having read enough to know that this was a specialty in itself, and chose to remove the left wheel. With the wheel off, he would have a clear shot at the coil and condenser from this other side.

As he levered the machine onto a piece of cement block, he was again impressed by its substance and mass and by the great power within it, a power he knew to be there but momentarily at rest. If he could only get to it, he knew he could fix it. The heavy duty tire spun free of the ground, turning easily, well-lubricated and perfectly balanced. The wheel’s ball bearings kissed like the tumblers of a combination lock falling into place. The plastic cap pulled off easily and then the large pin that it protected. Several washers slipped off, and he could see the wedge-shaped key snugged in the channel of wheel and axle. He put both hands on the wheel, braced his feet against the chassis and pulled. It didn’t move. After several more efforts he took to whacking it from behind with a crowbar. Nothing could move it. It was fixed on the axle as if permanently attached. Yet, when he spun the wheel, it turned as if set into perpetual motion. It was curious, he thought, that anything could move so effortlessly, so easily in one direction, and still not slip an inch in another.

He stood up to stretch and walked into the small yard before the barn, pulling and massaging the muscles of his back. Far above him, a tiny jet plane was silently scoring the afternoon sky, appearing to divide the day into halves that would break apart along the white scratch it left behind. There was a whiff of pine on the breeze, and he looked over at the hillside. Actually, there wasn’t that much brush to worry about yet.

He began to whistle again as he put the machine back together. Even though he had not been able to repair it, even though he had not been able to get inside its steel case and reach the problem, he was gratified that he was able to return every nut and bolt to its proper place on the outside. Everything snapped back, he now worked with the precise familiarity of a professional; every part disappeared off the floor and found its right location on the machine like one of those trick photography sequences. Finally, the brush cutter was put together and looked like nothing had ever happened to it. No one would know, he thought, that he had practically torn it apart. Well, Little Bink could probably tell, and he would have to call the boy and ask him to come and see what was wrong with it. Just before he left the barn, he touched the starter button. The engine did not start, but it still turned over, just as before, so he had not made it worse and there was some kind of victory in that.

His wife had returned from the city very late so he did not see her until morning, and then he found her in the backroom, preparing to load the washing machine. She did not answer his good morning, but held up the pants he had worn yesterday, then dropped them into the tub. “Those were your good jeans,” she said sorrowfully, but she was not angry. “You should wear old clothes when you work around your machinery.”

“Well, it was the brush cutter,” he replied. “I hadn’t intended to work on it, but it wouldn’t start and I tried to fix it and one bolt led to another and. . . .” She nodded and smiled and looked away from him, into the tub that slowly filled with water. He was eased by her manner. “It’s probably just a little thing wrong with it. It ran great yesterday. You should have heard it. But it’s something I can’t fix, so I called Little Bink to come up.”

“That’s good,” she nodded again.

Just as she spoke a flat bed truck came up the driveway and continued on to the barn. There was a large motor generator mounted on the back and several cylinders of compressed gas. It was a familiar rig on local roads, as Bink Card had used it on his rounds to repair broken-down farm equipment.

“How was the city?” he asked her. “Did you meet some friends? I couldn’t wait up.”

“It’s still there,” she shrugged. “I had to do a lot of little things that took a lot of time.” She closed the top of the washer and reached into her shirt pocket for a cigarette. She faced him.

“What?” he asked.

“What?”

“You were about to say something, I thought.”

She waved smoke toward the ceiling. “You can help me with the house. I’m way behind and have to get caught up.”

“Sure,” he replied, though he wanted to be at the barn, wanted to be there when Little Bink got the cutter going. He could picture the young man studying the machine, reviewing a list of possible problems coupled with their solutions, but it would be wiser to stay here and help his wife. She usually hated housework and let the different chores pile up until they would press a bitterness on her usual good nature, but this morning she turned to the different tasks with a joyous bustle. They dusted and vacuumed, washed the woodwork, did mirrors and the windows inside, beat the rugs, polished the bathrooms, waxed the floors; husband and wife paired up. Sometimes, as they worked, they would hear the clang of metal on metal, the blows of a hammer and clatter of tools. The generator had started up, and its whine cut through the morning calm.

“Sounds like he’s using the torch,” he said to his wife. “I guess it’s not a simple problem after all.”

She nodded and smiled and handed him a dustpan; she had the broom. They had come, at last, to the guest room. He wondered if there were to be weekend guests; perhaps someone she had met in the city and had invited up and was waiting to tell him when they took a coffee break. They had even changed the linen on the bed in the guest room, and she had displayed the same sedulous attention to mundane details, such as the precise corner folds of the top sheet, that always seemed to key her preparations for someone’s arrival.

She aligned several journals on the bedside table. “There,” she said. “That’s done.” The bed was between them. It was a double bed but looked larger because of the design of its counterpane. She looked around; her cigarettes were in the kitchen.

“I’ll buy the coffee,” he said.

“Good.” As they walked back through the neat and expectant rooms, he noted the sounds from the barn were fewer but more emphatic. There was an exactness to the hammer blows; their number selected carefully, their delivery timed. He heated up the coffee she had made earlier and brought cups to the table. She had already sat down, already held a smoking cigarette.

They sipped their coffee, and he was about to speak and then saw she was also going to say something and then a geyser of noise erupted in the barn, an engine roar that permeated the air, an explosion of sound that caught all the particles of light in its billowing racket.

“Listen,” she almost shouted.

“I know, I know,” he cried. He was laughing and clapped his hands. “Do you hear that? Listen to that. He’s got it started!” He reached across to squeeze her hand. She brushed some bread crumbs together and then swept them off the table. They fell to the floor.

“No. Listen. That’s not it. Listen.” She shook her head. The engine noise had moderated, become more tuned. “Listen to me. I’ve taken an apartment in the city. I guess, I’m leaving you.”

He had heard what she said, heard the way she said it; the slight hesitation in her voice that had been poised for him to turn her in whatever direction he cared to take. But he was also listening to the powerful sound of the engine and a tempo that rhymed his own heavy pulse as all the nameless parts worked smoothly.

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